Offering Horses Whole Foods and Allowing for the Freedom to Choose

There is an equine supplement recently marketed heavily to me on my Facebook profile, that generates many broad claims regarding the benefits it can provide and the various ailments it can cure; faster recovery, increased stamina, calmer and more focused mind, refined muscle condition, repaired bone, improved and advanced healing. It is helping horses with ulcers, founder, allergies, and apparently even issues that would normally be assisted by consistent training. That is quite a list, yes? It must be a miracle supplement!

But on further investigation, the supplement amounts to an amino acid stacking. And it’ll certainly cost you!

I started thinking again about how I prefer to feed whole foods to my horses, that I prefer to offer them a selection and variety of feeds in addition to quality grass hay, allowing them to decide what they need and when they need it. I do not think the more common practice of adding broad spectrum supplements to our horses’ diet is necessarily wrong and it can certainly be an easier and less time consuming option, depending how you look at it. However, I do wonder how many issues of imbalance we may be causing when we broadly force feeding supplements without consideration to individual requirements; requirements that change throughout the year and can absolutely vary between particular horses. I do prefer to always listen to my horses and respect their choices.

In the past, I have been fortunate enough to allow my horses turnout on vast acreage, during which I often spend time with the herd just walking or sitting while they browse and graze around me. I’m also a great fan of taking my horses for walks on the lead whenever it suits me, which is a lot now that I am a single mother with a son still too young to ride along on his own horse. During both times, I have always been interested to watch horses carefully select various wild plants through the changing of the seasons and through the journey of their overall health. It is quite fascinating to consider and the horses can be incredibly discerning as they walk about ignoring what we might expect them to devour (fresh blades of grass) in favor of a more unusual choice (chaparral)! When you begin taking note of the individual acquired tastes between the horses of your herd and especially if you keep records to further compare data through the years, the evidence—though circumstantial—carries even more weight.

The formal study of plants being used by animals in their native habitat for medicinal value is referred to as zoopharmacognosy and it seems to be a continuously growing field of study, which I think is marvelous. Of course, humans have observed wild animals and utilized them as sources from which to derive examples of herbal medicine since prehistoric times. But it’s nice to see that after generations of scoffing this previous association of learning, we are now returning to a relationship where we admit that we can learn something for ourselves, by understanding how wild animals survive and keep in good health. American biologist Michael Huffman, who has worked for many years in Japan at the Primate Research Institute at Kyoto University, described a widely used criteria for judging when an animal is self-medicating, based on his studies of primates. His evidence that African apes were ingesting food for medicinal value was based on documenting the following in his observations: plant species which are not a regular part of the diet, habit of ingestion which provides no additional nutritional benefit to the animal, restriction of plant use to seasons or other periods associated with high risk of parasitic infection, illness or parasite infection of the individual at the time of ingestion of a putative medicinal plant, a subsequent positive change in this condition following ingestion (Huffman, Michael A. WILEY-LISS, INC, 1997. Current Evidence for Self-Medication in Primates: A Multidisciplinary Perspective.). Much of the evidence for self medicating that was documented by Huffman discussed gastrointestinal upset and changing levels of parasitic infection. This is a great place to start because parasites most certainly are a common and recurring malady for all mammals and the parasitic burden or remedy can be most easily authenticated by those evaluating them. However, we can also expect that as evidence and interest in zoopharmacognosy continues to grow, we will find that self medicating in animals is being applied to a variety of illnesses and system imbalances, it is a common behavior both instinctual and learned, and it is a reliable method of healing for animals that are allowed the freedom of a natural and varied environment…an environment from which these animals have singularly adapted and collectively evolved for hundreds of years.

Of course, domesticated animals are not often allowed that same freedom. We keep them in stalls and kennels and cages, usually feeding them the same amount of the same processed foods for every single day of their life, without taking into consideration the various individual requirements and how (and how often) those requirements may change. In an effort to always best replicate  a more natural existent for my own animals, I do believe that providing whole foods and allowing my animals to choose their diet is a preferable approach whenever possible. For my horses, I keep them on quality grass hay and offer soaked beet pulp with whole oats, in addition to a free choice variety of seeds, vegetables, and fruits.

Always make sure to check and verify that what you are offering is safe for your horse to consume! A complete list of plants both toxic and non toxic to horses, can be found here: https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/horse-plant-list

An example of some of the most common foods I might offer my horses includes:

Papaya—high in vitamin C, which is a powerful antioxidant. We find an abundance of the B vitamins folic acid, pyridoxine, riboflavin, and thiamin in papaya too! Although horses are able to generate their own B vitamins, a deficiency might show in signs of diminished energy levels or inadequate hoof health. There are 212 amino acids and also several enzymes found in papaya. One such enzyme is papain, which has an anti-inflammatory effect on the stomach. This is why I recommend fresh papaya be added to the diet of any horse that suffers ulcers! Papaya is also high in potassium and fiber. The seeds have been used to eradicate ringworm.

Apple—especially high in antioxidants catechin, procyanidins, chlorogenic acid, ploridizin.

Banana—a good source of copper, biotin, magnesium, manganese, and fiber. Also an excellent source of potassium!

Watermelon—a wonderfully hydrating snack for hot summer days or after a strenuous workout! Full of electrolytes and vitamins C, A, B-Complex. Watermelon also contains a decent amount of fiber, especially when you include the rind!

Pear—high vitamin and mineral content.

Carrot—a famous treat for horses, carrots are particularly known to be high in beta-carotene.

Celery—a very safe addition for horses with metabolic issues, as celery does not contain high amounts of sugar. It is high in fiber, magnesium, phosphate, collagen, and vitamins C, A, and B Complex. Being rich in phenolic phytonutrients gives celery an antioxidant and anti inflammatory property that makes it a favorite addition any time one of my horses suffers a bit of laminitis!

Pumpkin—pumpkins are bursting with carbohydrates and full of fiber! They are also an excellent source of vitamin C, A, and E. They offer good amounts of minerals magnesium, zinc, niacin, manganese, copper, selenium, and iron.

Cilantro—another one that is excellent for lamanitic horses, cilantro is an excellent anti-inflammatory herb! The oils of the leaves are antimicrobial, and the plant is full of phytonutrients, flavonoids, phenolic acid compounds.

Parsley—also an herb known for its anti-inflammatory properties, parsley has shown excellent results in aiding treatment for arthritis. It is a diuretic and commonly used to control urinary tract infections, kidney stones, and gallbladder stones. I always include it if a horse is showing edema in the legs.

Beet—absolutely another favorite whole food to feed my horses! Beets are very rich in various minerals and vitamins, although they do have the highest sugar content of any vegetables. They are particularly high in nitrates, which are linked to lowering blood pressure and positive enhancement of athletic performance.

Spinach—a rich leafy green high in vitamins and minerals, but I only offer a small handful at a time. Too much can make horses gassy and it isn’t uncommon for my horses to leave the spinach to the rabbits as leftovers.

Dandelion Greens—an excellent source of vitamins A, B complex, C, D, E and K. They are also high in minerals like magnesium, potassium, iron, and calcium. They are an excellent green leafy food for our horses, with a higher margin of safety than spinach or kale. This has made dandelion greens referred to as “the horse’s lettuce” by equestrians.

I also offer grapes/raisins, cantaloupe, squash, cucumber, lentils, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, garlic, turmeric, mesquite beans, sprouts, and various powdered herbs that I use for their deworming benefits.

Be creative and have fun with it! But do always check to make sure a food you might offer is not toxic to your horse and always go for small quantities of each one you include. Be extra careful about offering too many fruits at once, just because you have to think about the increased sugar intake. And for horses that have metabolic issues or insulin resistance, you have to be even more aware of what you feed.

I don’t worry too much about my horses pushing some foods aside and I usually always offer them again in the future. They change their minds and it’s all about choices! Pay attention to what each horse readily devours and take note of what that particular fruit or vegetable is most known for, as this could be a clue to what your horse is lacking or seeking to balance within its system. I do not recommend you offer them too much of any one food at once, but you can think about other ways to offer more of the ingredients  they seem to be craving. They are more intelligent and conscious then we usually give them credit for, the whole idea is allowing them the freedom to make their choices as they would in a ideal wild habitat.

I recommend always having loose mineral salt available in their living environment and I even offer food grade diatomaceous earth, which is very rich in minerals, as a free choice supplement.

Happy Feeding!

Laminitis, Keeping Our Composure

I often hear owners use the terms laminitis and founder interchangeably. But though the two ailments are certainly related, they are entirely separate in action and severity. It is important that we distinguish the two properly, when reacting to and treating our horses for sensitivity and lameness.

First, a quick lesson in internal structures of hoof:

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Most of us know that the hoof capsule contains three bones; the coffin bone, the navicular bone, and the distal short pastern bone. Our focus with founder is in regards to the coffin bone, which serves to protect nerves and blood vessels, while providing an attachment for the deep digital flexor tendon. The corium is a vascular network that supplies blood flow to the hoof and surrounds the coffin bone. Along the dorsal side of the corium, we find it surrounded with a beautiful layer of sensitive laminae, which is itself surrounded by the insensitive laminae. The insensitive laminae continues outward to form the inside of the hoof wall. The two laminae are both made up of primary epidermal laminae and secondary epidermal laminae, and the vascular tissues are interlaced so strongly that they are quite difficult to pull apart! Together, they work to support the coffin bone and also the weight of the horse. Their health and integrity is essential to  the hoof form and function!

I consider laminitis a symptom of disease and a precursor to founder. By common definition, laminitis is an inflammation of the sensitive laminae tissue inside of the horse’s hoof. But the Merck Veterinary Manual now describes laminitis as “a transient ischemia associated with coagulopathy that leads to breakdown and degeneration of the union between the horny and sensitive laminae.” Either way, the result is the same: the enter-laminae bonds become compromised and weaken, causing constriction of blood flow and a great deal of pain to the horse. In cases that are not managed or allowed to correct, these bonds can be completely destroyed and now the horse has foundered, causing the coffin bone to drop within the hoof. Founder is a mechanical event and a severe one, but it did not happen suddenly to the horse and it is rare that we see it take place in healthy, unrestricted hooves.

We should never ignore the signs of laminitis in our horses’ hooves and they vary in degrees of severity, from extremely mild to very severe. We must learn to recognize the signs and work to correct them promptly, before our horses reach the point of foundering! But with mild laminitis, we may expect to see symptoms (unwillingness of the horse to walk on its own, standing to shift the weight off their front hooves) which last a few days, a few weeks, or have even been existing for quite some time (heels growing quicker than the toes, divergent hoof rings which are wider or lower at the heel than at the toe, straight hairline at the coronary band) and the pathology is not uncommon in both wild and domestic horses. In healthy hooves, which belong to horses that are allowed the freedom to seek what they require (eg. standing at length in water, increased or decreased movement, change of terrain, change of diet, etc.) short periods of laminitis may come and go relatively unobserved. Almost like a fever of the hoof!

In 2011, Brian Hampson, PHD, released a joint paper with Professor Chris Pollitt, documenting their extensive study of the feral horses throughout Australia. They gathered 100 horses from five distinct environments (20 horses from each) and collared them with GPS tracking devices after which a histopathology was conducted for several months, documenting by visual and radiograph, the left forefoot. Although the feral horses of Australia are not considered as a perfect model of the healthy horse, because they are not a native species and they must survive in environmental extremes where they did not evolve to exist, the team still came up with some interesting findings! In addition to the adaptability of the hoof to its environment and the profound effect each environment had on the hooves, they discovered that the incidence of chronic laminitis ranged from 40% and 93% (Hampson and Pollitt. Nov 2011. Improving the Foot Health of the Domestic Horse; The Relevance of the Feral Horse Foot Model.). Broken down by environment, the statistics look like this:

67% of the 15 rocky terrain horses were diagnosed with laminitis

40% of 15 sandy desert horses were diagnosed with laminitis

93% of 15 prime grazing terrain horses were diagnosed with laminitis

40% of 56 Kaimanawa region (New Zealand) were diagnosed with laminitis.

These horses were still thriving as much as they would have, considering the circumstances of their environment! And they are doing so without any humans taking any drastic measures.

Why? Probably because their hooves, though they vary drastically from horse to horse and do not all represent what we think when we think of perfect barefoot hooves, remain unrestricted by shoes and are able to expand and contract upon weight bearing. They go through episodes of laminitis, but they are clearly able to manage. Their hooves may not be what we consider healthy, but if the horse is sound, we may need to start considering healthy as unique to the needs of each horse. At least, give it some margin of error and remain calm when we assess. I think we should compose our habit of inflexibly craving and aggressively pursuing a perfect ideal and instead, listen to our horses. We should be trimming conservatively in most cases and offering individual trims to each hoof, as each horse dictates they require. The key is to do this consistently every four to six weeks, to best mimic the natural wear and sloughing a horse would go through as it travels in the wild. In time, we will reach a healthy and more impressive hoof!

Again, I am not saying we should ignore laminitis in our horses. And we should always keep in close contact with our trusted Veterinarians! But I am saying, take a deep breath and do not become hysterical. Because laminitis is an alert to a greater problem and I think we’re lucky the horse sends us an alarm! We then get our chance to look calmly at what might have spurred the incident (stress factors, toxins, change of feed, inappropriate feed, illness, etc.) and we get a chance to fix the issue—not mask it, but fix it. Your horse is sending you a message. Keep your composure and get to work.

*When suspecting laminitis and evaluating your horse, don’t put so much trust in the common advice heat in the hooves being a diagnostic indicator. For one thing, barefoot horses are known to be more consistently warm in their hooves because their hooves are functioning as intended and the laminae are distributing energy actively and evenly. Blood flow can still be constricted in an incorrect trim or rehabilitating hoof, but usually the hoof is still performing better than it would be with shoes. In addition, so many environmental factors and activity levels can change the temperature of the hooves throughout the day. Using hoof wall heat as a diagnostic indicator will only be useful if you are aware of your horses’ normal average.

*You should only be using a digital pulse rate as a marker if you are already attune to your horses’ individual norm, at rest and at work. Horses vary. When we say a “increased digital pulse” is often an indication of laminitis, we are not referring to speed. We are referring to the strength and force of the pulse. This information doesn’t mean much unless you are already familiar with your horses’ pulse rate. Start practicing. They can be hard to find in a healthy horse with healthy hooves because the blood flow is not constricted! This site is excellent for teaching you how to find your horses’ digital pulse: http://www.ironfreehoof.com/equine-digital-pulses.html

 

 

 

Thrush; The Destructive Opportunist

In Arizona, monsoon often brings struggles with thrush in the hooves of many horses. In other parts of the country, where the weather is damp year round, thrush might be a constant concern.

We can recognize a serious case before we even lift the hoof, by detecting the awful smell just by the horse walking near us. Certainly, we can see it once we do have the hoof in our hand; the frog is usually the center of infection and thrush is often evident in an unhealthy central sulcus when it is deep and sensitive, instead of shallow and resilient. It will also follow along the collateral grooves. If allowed to continue unchecked, the infection can grow so ferocious that it can spoil the entire corium of the frog, cause the digital cushion to become diseased, and even harm the deep flexor tendon where it attaches to the coffin bone. You’ll only have these feeble slivers of nonfunctional frog and your horse will exhibit increased sensitivity, especially in the heel area of the hoof. Eventually, this can result in complete lameness.

There is an ongoing debate as to whether thrush is a bacterial infection (Sphaerophorus Necrophorus) or a fungal one (Candida Albicans) and I’m sure it can be either one or the other or both…but what we do know, is that it is an unwanted intrusion to our horses’ hooves and we need to be diligent in preventing it!

In my experience, healthy barefoot horses rarely suffer thrush at all. So, let’s talk about why that is!

First and foremost, movement. Some of this can still apply to a well shod horse, but it applies most completely to a barefoot horse. There is strong evidence that horses who are stabled and prohibited in their freedom to move on varied terrain for much of their day, often battle thrush more than others who are allowed ample space to roam. With the freedom to walk, trot, and gallop over a clean environment, as horses were designed to do, the hoof is constantly being worn and cleaned of collected debris and dead tissue. Obviously, when we confine them to a stall or small corral, without opportunities to exercise regularly and especially if clean conditions are not maintained, we cancel the hoof’s ability to preserve itself naturally. But even with nearly immaculate husbandry practices and an adequate turnout setting, thrush can still be a problem for some hooves.

Why?

This is where we leave the symptoms behind and go straight to the root cause: hoof contraction. A hoof that is contracted is a hoof that will have poor circulation. A hoof with poor circulation will have slow growth. A hoof with slow growth will have excess horn on which thrush will feed. And the whole thing is a vicious cycle! Overgrown and impacted bars are probably the most common culprit of inhibited circulation in our horses’ hooves—the bars and how to correctly see and trim them, seems to often be the most misunderstood element of all. Of course, there are various cases of bar neglect, with some quickly healed by a correct trim and others taking a bit more time. In severely neglected bars, they are actually forced upward and inward, inside of the hoof. This action basically causes everything else to also compress and pinch, such as the frog corium. Of course, increased pressure is put on the palmar digital artery too and it cannot function as it was intended. All this limitation creates the perfect opportunity for thrush to enter and thrive, further compromising the already compromised hoof.

Minor thrush can be easily combated with daily rinses of apple cider vinegar. Keep the crevices of the hoof as clean and open to oxygen as you can. Often, if I encounter a serious case, I will use a few drops of iodine complex to treat. But this is a very concentrated treatment and while it does work well, we should not have to not rely on it! We must treat the cause, not only the symptoms! Or you will be emptying thrush treatments every month because you are still providing the perfect environment for bacteria and fungus and thrush is a destructive opportunist. I only use iodine treatments to help a client along initially, but the real and lasting treatment is in the trim!

For a more detailed explanation of what causes thrush and also more information on the fundamentals of barefoot trimming I have come to recommend, please visit the websites for Hoof Help Online and The Horse’s Hoof.

Pictured is a beautiful and healthy frog!

Forgiving the Difficult Clients

After a morning of reviewing articles and speaking with colleagues, I’ve been thinking that it is no wonder most owners have such a hard time choosing the correct path for their horses. Whether we are farriers/barefoot trimmers, equine dentists, equine sports therapists, acupuncturists, nutritionalists, trainers, or even veterinarians…the majority of our clients are just casual horse enthusiasts. It isn’t their career, it is only their hobby. With the amount of information being shared, both correct and incorrect, it is no surprise to see how difficult it can be to make sense of it all.

I wish it meant more when you advise: keep it simple. There are a lot of ways to the same result in considering the health and soundness of your horses, but when you are trained to see it, they are really all similar means to an end. There are some supplements that some of us recommend quite a bit more highly than others, there are some trimming styles that some of us recommend quite a bit more highly than others, there are some conditioning routines and deworming routines and feeding requirements that some of us recommend quite a bit more highly than others…

But the advice is all very similar and the basic guideline is the same: stay committed, stay consistent, be responsible.

I recently took on a new client that hired me to remove the shoes of four horses and start hoof rehabilitation through barefoot trimming. These horses each have several concerns that all complicate each other such as misalignment, muscle soreness, thrush, teeth, mineral deficiencies, etc. None of them had ideal hooves, not even remotely. It’s all common enough to witness, when dealing with new horse owners. Far too common, unfortunately. It is still possible to solve everything easily, with patience and education, but it is going to take a lot of both. Initially, in this case, I did not want to get involved at all at this barn because I know trouble when I see it and you simply have to recognize that you cannot help every horse if the owner is that unaware from the start about their healthcare requirements. For example, if the owner doesn’t even recognize that their horse is not sound before your arrival…you are starting an uphill battle. But my internal hope got the better of me and I was convinced that my knowledge and experience would be followed and trusted.

Instead, it took two weeks after the first trim, for me to be fired and another farrier hired. Two weeks! None of my other health recommendations were started or followed with diligence and my knowledge was constantly questioned and challenged. Covertly, several people were brought in to critique my trimming. Because I was not there, I cannot know what was said and because I do not know the reputation or credentials of the consults, it basically doesn’t matter. The thing is: I had barely done any work on these hooves yet! When you first remove shoes from a horse that has been shod for years, it is best to not be overly aggressive and just allow the hoof to relax on its own for a moment. Let the hoof reveal itself to you, once the constriction of metal is eliminated and the hoof can move again. Give it some time. In some horses, the hoof is still thriving and it will reveal itself very quickly. In other horses, the hoof is not thriving, often due to inadequate husbandry, and these hooves will take more time before they start to show you what they need. But eventually, you can always get to that place. Then you start to trim to what you see in each hoof; you’re not trying to strictly force the perfect hoof form you have imagined, but you are trimming each individual hoof by its own guidelines, which are unique to each horse. And you are giving it time! With this client, I wasn’t even given the chance to see this process begin. So, however my trimming style was judged by others, the humorous part is that I had not really trimmed much at all! The owner doesn’t know that and the other people brought in for their opinion do not know that…all their critiquing I most likely would have agreed with, had I been involved with the assessment, because I also thought these hooves were basically very unhealthy and flawed.

At first, it was frustrating and even devastating news, to be fired from a brand new client. I do not do what I do because I make a great deal of money doing it, I do what I do because I have a great deal of passion for it. I had spent so much of my personal time educating this owner about hoof health and function, why I trim the way that I do, what I see in these hooves that is less than ideal, what to expect after removing shoes, etc. I adjusted and massaged several of these horses on my own time, without charging, just because it seemed like the right thing to do and it is such an easy effort for me to make. I consistently made myself available for even the tritest concerns or questions. And though I had not done much other than to clean up the hooves, I was still looking at beautiful trims considering. I fully believe each of these horses could have been rehabilitated! I have successfully rehabilitated much worse. But I did refuse to promise a timeline on rehabilitation, no matter how often I was pressured. I would not ever pretend I could tell the owner when every horse would be perfectly sound. And that last part is what really seemed to do me in…

This case almost broke me, as it followed several other new cases of serious neglect that have been hard to process and have required a lot of my resources. Everything hit at once! But after reaching out to mentors and colleagues, I’m at a place now where I can laugh at the folly of it all and move forward again. We’ve all been there. Unfortunately, we’ll all be there numerous times again. We literally cannot escape it, unless we change careers. It does help to keep a close community, where we can lean on each other when needed.

Also, we do have to recognize and refuse these trouble clients to save ourselves from compassion fatigue, which can be a real struggle for anyone working as health practitioners in the animal field at any level. How can we recognize these clients? Well, in many ways, it becomes instinctual with experience. As soon as they start talking, you know! But there are also two indications, which are almost always shared:

Horse(s) with several health concerns simultaneously existing. This is especially true when the owner has not already recognized or begun to address the issues. I cannot stress that enough! If you arrive to a new client, supposedly to address one concern, but immediately have a mental list of numerous considerations that need attention, proceed with extreme caution or do not proceed at all. This is very hard to do for most of us, but oftentimes we must. This characteristic will often be there with first-time horse owners and if they are truly willing to learn, they can often be worth your efforts to teach. But still be careful and protect yourself.

Owners who are blowing through professional opinions in a very short length of time. We’ve all heard these ones talk! The fact is, if you have gone through four farriers or four veterinarians or four trainers in a year…the problem is almost always the owner. Because as practitioners, we do all vary here and there in our techniques or opinions, but assuming we are qualified and experienced in our field, we are not all that different at the end of the day. It may be just a series of bad luck for the owner, but generally it isn’t.

That all being said, we must also find space to forgive these owners if we can. Because as I wrote in the opening of this post, they have so much information, both correct and incorrect, being pushed on them by so many sources, that it must seem overwhelming. It must be even more difficult for them to process and make sense of it all, than it is for us. We have been doing this for years! We have a community of mentors and colleagues! This is everything we have focused our education and efforts towards! Breeding, rearing, training, and maintaining healthy equines. We know it isn’t easy and we know it isn’t without our continuing education, commitment, consistency, and responsibility. We know it is a challenge.

But the casual owner just wants to ride their new horse on the trail a few times a week, without any issues. And I have to laugh, apologize to the horses, and forgive that misguided human trait. Because it is entirely out of my control. And it is out of your control too.

Navigating the Dark

I seem to notice that if I am joyous and skipping through the woods, following my collared up dogs through their hunting with a lightness to my step and easy beating to my heart, that they will see my good nature as a pass for absurdity. I will find them wrapped up in a blasphemous game, such as an entire pack joined in on a porcupine. I’ll end up pulling quills for hours upon hours in the field until the sun is rising and cursing them to hell and back for my bloody efforts.

But if I’m sad, deeply sad, heavy with layers of sorrow and walking along the forest path unengaged with the world around me, the pack will do something extraordinary. They’ll tree a robust bobcat in the middle of a thunderstorm. And they’ll do it as though it was just a simple task which they could have always done, had I only asked it of them! And I just get to stand there and find myself smiling again with the darkness lifted from my soul, even in the pouring rain.

Comparatively, their power to uplift my injured spirit is more significant than their tendency to further complicate my somber disposition.

Oftentimes, my most heartbroken and painful days will turn into my best memories because of my animals’ responses to my emotion. They treat me gently and carefully, when I am mournful and hurt. They become less forceful and trying. They seem to accept my direction effortlessly and connect with me more comfortably. It reminds me of how open and soft I am when I have been wounded. I become gentle. I become fragile. And I believe that the animals might find it easier to work with that energy, than they do when you are championing the world.

I used to have a paint horse that would often throw his best bucks whenever he found me really feeling inflamed and thrilled with my afternoon…

“What kinda manner is that, Zalikai? Come now!”

“Ahh, it’s fun. You can handle it. It’s fun!”

Insufferable little paint horse, always challenging me on my best days.

But there were other times that I’d go to him quietly and I’d ask for a ride when I could not take the bucking. He was a solid friend, that little paint horse. He was easy going and relaxed, humble and uncomplicated. He was all about the simple pleasures in life and he was always eager to forgive and forget, raising his beautiful head and blinking the sleep from his eye…

“I thought you were bringing hay.”

“Are you hungry? It’s past midnight.”

“I know it is very late. I was asleep, but I heard your steps.”

“I need to go for a walk and I am too weak to walk alone. I thought you might carry me, please would you?”

“I can, of course, if you need me to. I’ll graze the wild grass, if you don’t mind.”

And I wouldn’t mind and we’d walk through the entire night, quiet and alone in our thoughts. I wouldn’t need to guide him or even urge him forward; he’d just walk in familiar directions and take me along comfortable scenes, visiting places where we had made better memories in our past. Peaceful breath. Attentive ears. Soothing stride with a careful stepping of his hooves. And by sunrise, we’d be turning in the direction of our home or just stepping out of the forest to see its gate. It was all by his own design, the entire ride.

I now have a horse that can really move! He is a great horse and a powerful horse, he can be a forceful horse to handle on your best days. But he is also very emotional because he has suffered through much in the past. He is incredibly smart, but he can be distant. He doesn’t want to fight you, but he absolutely will if he feels insulted or harmed. He is sophisticated, well-bred, and well-traveled. And he can dance…

“I am sorry, Theo, to wake you.”

“I was already awake and I was watching the moon.”

“I am sorry, but I was hoping we could dance together in the field. Not for too long, but just for a little while. I am hurting. But I know it’s very late.”

“I will dance with you, for as long as you need, if that will help you to feel happy again and not to hurt. I do not mind it. And you do not need to feel sorry for asking.”

And have you ever sat on a tall white horse with enormous movement, in an empty field lit by the moon, with tears in your eyes and your entire body weak, and him dancing for you simply because it would help you feel happy again? Piaffe. Passage. Pirouette. You asked him so lightly because that was all you could do, and he responded. You are reminded that your cues should always be this gentle and open because feel how easily the horse can respond! It might not sound like the most beautiful thing in the world, but it is. I only needed that midnight dancing once and I’ve never quite had the same grace out of this since, though we continue to develop a deep understanding of each other and have become trusted friends.

Sometimes, you just sit on the back porch with a good hound dog and a beer. Maybe, you have more than one beer…

“You’re my main man now, you know.”

“Yep.”

“It’s a shitty deal for you really. I mean, if we’re being honest, you know, no man has ever been happy about that arrangement for long. Fuck it. It’s a shitty deal for you.”

“But I’m not a man. I’m just a dog.”

“Ha! Copy that. You’re a good dog, Floyd River Red Rum. You’re a good one.”

“Want to go out and tree some coons? You’re smashed. I’m not. I can tree some coons. Makes you feel better. Makes me feel better.”

“We could. Fuck it. We could. We’d have to walk.”

“I like walking. No problem. You should bay at them. Bay ‘em up like we do.”

“Man, come now…”

“I ain’t kiddin’. Bay ‘em up! It releases…you have some fancy word for it…”

“Endorphins?”

“That’s right. Endorphins. It releases them. That’s why we do it. Makes us feel better. Works. You gotta do it a lot though. Gotta throw your whole voice out there. Slam that bark with your paws and holler up that tree with all ya got. Wake up the woods. Wake ‘em all up! It’ll make you feel better, baying up through those branches to the moon. Even if nothing ever comes down for you…”

And he’s right.

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Gentle Deworming

This post is a little consideration on natural medicine as it applies to the health of the animals we keep, focused on parasites and regarding the theory behind the methods. In the future, there will be additional posts more specific to recipes and practice.

For the past 10 years, I’ve been using a natural and gentle deworming protocol in my horses and dogs, to a very favorable outcome. I most commonly rely on an herbal formula and along the way, I always encourage gut health with probiotics. To me, one of the greatest things about herbal deworming is that you’re making the host inhospitable or undesirable to live worms, while still fully supporting the immune system of your animal. This idea also relates to other dietary supplements like garlic and pumpkin seeds, which also limit and prevent parasites. For example, garlic, turmeric, pumpkin seeds, parsley, and cloves all have additional benefits to the overall health of your animal; they all contain varying degrees of antimicrobial and antibacterial properties, they are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, they fight inflammation, soothe the stomach, and help eliminate toxins. Whereas, anthelmintic drugs have one goal and one goal only—to eradicate the parasites. There is a benefit, perhaps, to the one-dose, no-hassle, routine of these drugs. But it is worth mentioning that the very easy and common access is strongly related to why we now have parasites building an immunity to them! In the case of Ivermectin, which was originally extracted from a soil fungus, it is generally accepted as safe in mammals because mammals do not have glutamate-gated chloride channels in their muscle cells, and binding to these glutamate-gated chloride channels is how the parasites are paralyzed (1). But some animals can go into a system shock when given Ivermectin, especially if their health is already compromised or stressed. The medication is strong and toxic reactions can be severe. Of course, this could be true for any supplement, but again, is there an added benefit to outweigh the risk? I just forced a very strong drug into my animal’s system and it did as intended, but did it support anything else in the body? In the case of anthelmintic drugs, I have not found any evidence to support an added benefit to the overall health of the animal, besides killing any parasites that were hosted. In 2008, a scientific study was done comparing the effectiveness of Ivermectin to garlic (2) . Garlic proved to be every bit as effective!

During this recent year I have been moving about the country and in doing so, unintentionally did my own experiment in the overall health of my animals by neglecting my herbal protocol and relying on conventional veterinary products to get us along during our travels. The results have been ghastly; dull and uneven growth in coats, noticeably diminished endurance, stomach upset, ear infections, disabling giardia, consistently battling parasitic infestations and in one of my horses, a robust return of Cutaneous Habronemiasis (summer sores). Do I attribute all of this to the use of anthelmintic drugs? Maybe not. But it is definitely worth my noting because none of these issues had ever stricken my animals before and/or never stricken them so severely. Though we were traveling, the only thing that really changed for any of them, was the switch from herbal deworming methods to the more common medications. I do not feel like I even had as strong of a handle on parasites, despite following recommended protocol, and I lost the additional health benefits of my herbs. It goes without saying, we are now settling in again and going back to our normal routine! It has only been a few months and I already see the benefits.

It’s also important to remember, that animals and humans are able to play host to a variety of parasites, within reason. We are never going to eliminate every parasite from their bodies or our own and we probably shouldn’t be trying. In the wild, I think it is safe to assume that animals are capable of seeking out the diversity in plants they may require in their diet, as they may require it. I’ve studied my own horses doing so, when they have been offered abundant native land with which to graze freely. I have witnessed their careful selections and I’ve noted the changing preferences throughout the seasons. I have seen my dogs do the same. If they could always roam a plentifully mixed territory, as they were designed, it might be safe to assume that I wouldn’t have to intervene in their health except in rare circumstances or as they became of great age and diminished strength.

So, why are so many responsible and diligent owners still set against a holistic angle when considering their animals’ health? Why is it still more common than not, to be met with a rolling eye when you offer advice on herbal deworming?

I have often listened to friends claim that they have tried herbal deworming, but it did not offer good results. Professionally, I’ve spoken to people referencing their clients who are experimenting with herbal formulas, but still bringing dogs or horses into the clinic with heavy parasitic loads. Because my own experience has been so entirely opposite, it can be frustrating to hear these stories. I think one of the reasons that some people do not have immediate and lasting success with herbal dewormers is due to lacking a full understanding of the approach; they are not thoroughly committed in a holistic view of their animals’ entire health and it’s also likely many are using incorrect dosages. I believe herbal deworming is more beneficial to the whole dog or horse, but it isn’t simpler. And what works today for this dog or horse, might not work next year. It also might not work identically for every dog or horse. They are individuals and their requirements are often unique.

Stay tuned for more on this subject! unnamed

 

1.

https://web.stanford.edu/group/parasites/ParaSites2005/Ivermectin/mechanism%20of%20action.htm

2.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18673129

Heart of the Hoof

I have spent nearly my entire life with horses and it has never been a complacent or unscholarly life. My first exposure to them began by working as a young girl with a highly respected and internationally recognized dressage rider, trainer, and judge. I stayed in her tutelage for several years. Growing into a young woman, I took a few short breaks from the equestrian life as I explored my world and myself. But I never really stopped reading and studying methods and skills that pertained to horses, and I found times to ride here and there along the way. As an adult, I brought them back into my life in earnest and began working as an Equine Sports Therapist, managing a small breeding stable, working as a professional groom, and eventually found myself as a barefoot trimmer.

Barefoot trimming has presently become a significant part of my work and thought. Originally, I only started trimming because I literally could not find a farrier in my remote location, able and willing to tend to my barn of horses on any regular basis! We also had several problems arising with the hooves of several horses and someone had to take control, perhaps even try something new. At that time, I was still a supporter of well-shod horses and did not know a great deal about everything that goes into the hoof of the horse and a proper barefoot trim. A good friend and mentor of mine, Iana Gonzalez, encouraged me to take a different path for the horses under my care and urged me to take personal responsibility for their hooves. My first introduction to the theory and practice of barefoot trimming, began with James and Yvonne Welz of The Horse’s Hoof.

And so, I began!

It was not always an easy road to travel. The voyage was not without hesitation, doubt, or even mistake. Especially when rehabilitating a hoof already compromised and damaged for years by metal shoes, the process of recovery is not always without complication. However, the rewards have been abundant and indisputable. With my experience and careful scrutiny, I now find that I cannot pretend to support anything other than a barefoot horse, trimmed correctly and regularly (preferably at four week intervals). Though I did not set out to become fanatically against shod  horses, the more I have learned about the structure of the hoof and how it functions, the more I saw the folly in our common practice of nailing any number of metal shoe designs to their live hooves.

Because I have become such an advocate of barefoot trimming, I know that I will use this blog to often post information and musings on what has become a substantial part of my work and belief system. I will always welcome discussion and questions! It is my hope that I can help educate and encourage all owners and riders, for the ultimate benefit of the horses we love. I hope for my readers who feel strongly commited to their horses remaining shod, that you will still feel welcome and interested in learning more about your horses’ hoof. Afterall, you can never stop learning and knowledge is always power.

Photo Credit: Phillip Adams, Nevada Wilds Photography.

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